In this edition: Prisoner attempts suicide, remains in solitary; Whistleblower alleges prison staff orchestrating and gambling on prisoner fights; Jail’s top guard fired after beating claim; HRC attends Conference Against Torture in Harrisburg and more…
News from the Inside
Prisoner Attempts Suicide, Remains in Solitary: A prisoner at SCI Huntingdon attempted suicide after being taunted and harassed repeatedly by guards in the solitary confinement units. Jeremiah Weems reports being sent to the hospital after trying to kill himself, stating that he is being harassed by correctional officers and it is starting to get to him. Weems reports specifically being called a “fag” and being told that he “sucks cock” continuously by staff. After going to the hospital and a short term at SCI Smithfield, Weems was transferred back to Huntingdon and put in a close watch observation cell. Here guards continued to taunt him, and gave him a razor. Weems reported that guards Snyder and Wellson came to his door and Wellson said , “We know you just came back from Smithfield for trying to kill yourself, I’m gonna give you a razor so you can do it for us right now.” After a Lt. found that Weems had a razor, he came by his cell and called the psych department. Weems reports slicing his wrist again in the presence of the psych department and then being removed from his cell to be seen by a nurse.
Weems concluded his report by saying that he had been in the solitary unit for three years now, that he is listed to be in the same unit until 2025 with an earliest possible release date of 2017. He reported that staff keep writing him up for nothing and prolonging his time in solitary which is deteriorating his mental health. Weems was one of a handful of prisoners, who witnessed a former prisoner, Timothy Kelley, being taunted by guards until he committed suicide at SCI Huntingdon in December 2009.
Fight Club at Fayette, whistleblower alleges prison staff orchestrating and gambling on prisoner fights: An anonymous letter claiming to be from a prison guard at the State Correctional institution (SCI) Fayette claims that prison staff have been organizing fights amongst prisoners and betting on the outcomes.
The letter states: “This past summer at SCI-Fayette, on the 6-2 Shift, guards were permitting inmates to fight in the Zone 2 yard field house. The CO’s were betting on the fights and allowing the winner to run a store from the field house. Several staff members were and still are involved. The “FIGHT CLUB OCTAGON“ is what they call it and it continues to go on.” The letter identifies several staff members who are involved in or have knowledge of the fight club, including Security Captain Trempus, who has allegedly failed to investigate or report the matter. The letter continues: “This is assault and was permitted to go on with at times severe injuries involved. Staff would break up the fights when it got bad or even sometimes, they just shut the door and let the winner come out of the field house with the loser laying in there for almost 2 hours. I saw missing teeth, swollen eyes, broken knuckles, broken hands, and other things.”
Intimidation of staff members by those involved in the fight club has created a climate of fear at the prison, as those involved are attempting to cover-up the scandal according to the letter: “I am a dedicated CO who does not believe in this type of stuff in our prisons and if nothing is done it will go on and somebody will get hurt or even killed. I am in fear of my life is I would report this because this is the atmosphere that Coleman, Gates, Nickerson, and Forte has created. The SCI Pittsburgh incident is bad enough on our image and this could be just as bad. Now to top it all off, we have CO’s who are threatening others that if they don’t lie and cover this up, they will be dealt with. In fact, Sgt. Freeman was overheard by CO Ricci stating to CO Breakiron that they better get their story straight because Forte, Krayton, and him are “golden boys” and will be protected by the SCI Greene guys who run the jail. There is a severe cover-up going on right now in order to protect the good ole boy club and it’s no different than what happened at SCI Pittsburgh. This is the second letter sent and no investigation has been started. You and your office are now just as involved in the cover-up because you failed to do your job as a independent bureau within the DOC and investigate. You are reminded that corruption is not looked upon in a good manner by this Governor and something must be done.”
The letter was sent to the PA DOC’s Office of Special Investigations and Intelligence (OSII), HRC, and members of the press. OSII Director James Barnacle confirmed to an HRC advocate on Friday that his office had received the first report about the fight club at the end of September, and opened an investigation into the matter in early October.
Woman files sexual assault suit against Allegheny County Jail Employee: A formerly incarcerated woman filed a lawsuit last week regarding her being sexually assaulted by a guard at the Allegheny County Jail. The correctional officer at Allegheny County Jail, Charles Walker, plead guilty to institutional sexual assault earlier this year. The lawsuit named former Warden, Ramon Rustin, and Correctional Officer Charles J Walker and included charges of sexual assault, excessive force, unlawful restraint, assault, battery and witness intimidation. The lawsuit described how Correctional Officer Walker isolated the woman, kissed her and then subjected her to forcible oral sex. It further described how the woman was assaulted and intimidated after filing the lawsuit against the guard. She was transferred to Washington County Jail for the bulk of her sentence, but was moved back to Allegheny County Jail before trial. Here, she reported being assaulted by multiple guards, had her head slammed to the ground and into a wall, had a spit mask put on and was kicked while she was handcuffed. In the lawsuit, she reported an officer telling her, “we should rape you again for coming back here.”
The practice of witness intimidation and assault of prisoners in Pittsburgh is not new. In 2005, at the Federal Courthouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Andre Jacobs, a prisoner who had recently won a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections was dragged onto an elevator by U.S. marshals and beaten unconscious after the completion of a civil rights suit he had brought. Federal marshals then conspired to frame Jacobs for assaulting them, despite his being cuffed and shackled at the time. He was sentenced to an additional 17 years in prison as a result. Charles J. Walker, the Correctional Officer who pleaded guilty, took a plea bargain and was sentenced to nine months of home confinement and seven years of probation.
Jail’s top guard fired after beating claim: The Allegheny County Jail’s top guard was fired Friday, weeks after he was accused in a lawsuit of beating an inmate who tried to escape. James M. Donis, 49, who was major of the guards, faces civil accusations that he beat inmate Gary W. Barbour, 29, after putting on leather gloves and saying, “I’m your worst nightmare.” That April 6, 2010, incident is believed to be a subject of a federal criminal probe of the jail. Mr. Barbour had attempted to escape through jail vents but then offered no resistance when captured and handcuffed, according to the lawsuit filed Oct. 7 in U.S. District Court filed by attorney Ronald D. Barber. It accused Mr. Donis of starting a beating that was joined by other officers. After the beating, it said, Mr. Barbour’s bloody and soiled clothes were replaced before he was taken to
The firing “doesn’t surprise me, because most of the time when these things are occurring, it goes all the way up the ladder,” said Shandre Delaney, an advocate with Human Rights Coalition Fed Up, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Conference Against Torture Held in Harrisburg:
The PA Network Against Torture
brought together allies and activists from around the state to participate in a conference about U.S. sponsored torture this past weekend in Harrisburg. The agenda was structured around three workshops and topics. One workshop, led by Kate Porterfield of New York University, focused on working with survivors of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic complex trauma with a focus on Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Another led by John Humphries of the National Religious CAmpaign Against Torture (NRCAT) focused on U.S. participation in state sponsored torture during the war in Iraq. The third, led by King Downing of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), was a brainstorming session of action steps that people could take to organize and do work against torture. Many of the action steps mirrored work that the Human Rights Coalition is currently participating in.
Members of the Human Rights Coalition brought to the event their unique organizational leadership by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people and survivors of torture. HRC plans to work with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and AFSC in the next few months, revising draft legislation to abolish or reduce the practice of prolonged solitary confinement in Pennsylvania prisons, with the next steps of holding a legislative hearing to introduce the need for this legislation with members of the Human Rights Coalition’s Political Action Committee.
PA awards $316M contract for new Graterford prison: State officials announced on Wednesday, October 27, 2011 that a contractor has been picked to build SCI-Phoenix East & West, a new state prison, on the grounds of SCI-Graterfod. The new prison would house up to 4,100 inmates and is expected to open in 2014.
Secretary of General Services Sheri Phillips, along with state Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel, announced that the winning bid of nearly $316 million went to Walsh Construction of Canonsburg, Washington County, and Heery International of Philadelphia, who will award the mechanical, electrical and plumbing contracts after the designs are complete. Astorino, of Pittsburgh, will be the architect for the project.
Philly area: Wednesdays are Write On! Prison Letter Writing Night at the LAVA space at 4134 Lancaster, 6-9 pm. Come help us stay connected with the many prisoners who write to us with news from inside, learn to document crimes committed by prison staff, and help bring an end to the abuse and torture of our brothers and sisters behind bars.
If you’d like to know more about the Human Rights Coalition or would like to get involved, come to Write On!, to our monthly general meetings (second Monday of each month, 6pm), or call us at 215-921-3491, email: email@example.com
, or visit our website at http://www.hrcoalition.org./
Pittsburgh area: Write On! – Letter writing to prisoners and HRC work night every Wednesday at 5129 Penn Avenue from 7 -10pm. To get involved with HRC/Fed Up! in Pittsburgh, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
or call 412-654-9070.
You’ve been listening to the Human Rights Coalition’s PA Prison Report. HRC is a group of current and former prisoners, family members, and supporters, whose ultimate goal is to abolish prisons.
Keep up the fight!